An update will go live for Pokémon Go users this week, Niantic announced. The update is one of the game’s biggest ever, adding features that many current and former players have anticipated since Pokémon Go’s 2016 launch: trading and a friends list.

Making friends in Pokémon Go

Friendship in Pokémon Go comes with special bonuses, according to Niantic. The social feature will encourage players to exchange six-letter, personalized Trainer Codes (think Nintendo’s Friend Code system) in order to add each other to their list of friends. Once a friend request has been accepted, trainers then can check out their friends’ stats in the main profile screen, including what their most recent in-game activity was.

From there, players have the option to send each other gifts online. These new items will be found at PokéStops or gyms and can only be used for sharing with friends. The cool part is that these can include helpful items, but also exclusive Pokémon Eggs — a new, yellow Egg that requires players to walk seven kilometers to hatch. Once it does, they’ll receive an exclusive, Egg-only Alolan form of a classic Pokémon.

All of this is important, but the most significant thing about the Friends feature is the Friendship Level. When players befriend each other, they start out essentially as acquaintances. The more they interact, however, the higher their Friendship Level comes. Battling a Gym or in a Raid together (a local-only feature) adds to that gauge, as does giving presents to one another or trading Pokémon (more on that in a second).

Niantic/The Pokémon Company
A friends list in Pokémon Go.

The four tiers are Good Friend, Great Friend, Ultra Friend and Best Friend, with each granting additional bonuses. Battling a Gym with an Ultra Friend throws in a higher attack bonus than you’d get fighting with a Good Friend, for example. You’ll also get trading benefits and access to a unique version of Pokémon trading as you become better friends with someone.

Trading Pokémon in Pokémon Go

Friendship is a crucial addition to the game, but trading feels like an essential one. It’s certainly a long time coming; Niantic first teased that it would allow players to swap monsters in Pokémon Go in the game’s debut trailer. Since then, CEO John Hanke and others have continued to promise that trading was still on its way.

The first thing to know about the trading function is that, in its first incarnation, it only works locally. Players cannot exchange Pokémon online; they must be physically near each other in order to initiate a trade. They must also have reached level 10 in-game to gain access to the feature.

Once those boxes are checked, however, anything goes. There are no limitations on which Pokémon players can send to each other, pending approval from their trading partner. There is one extra step, however, and that’s the stardust required to complete each trade. Depending on your Friendship level, trades will cost more or less stardust; Best Friends may only have to spend 40,000 of the item while those who have just met may have to spend a million.

Niantic/The Pokémon Company
These two players are engaged in a “Special Trade.”

Where it really helps to have close friends is with Special Trades. These trades are only available to Great Friends and above, and they’re the only way to exchange the following: Legendary Pokémon, shiny Pokémon and Pokémon you’ve yet to log in your Pokédex (like regional exclusives). Special Trades come with an inherently high stardust cost, but that will also go down as your Friendship level goes up.

As for the trading process itself, it looks a lot like trading in the mainline games. Your Pokémon face each other on special screen, and you watch them transfer over from your phone to your friend’s. You then greet the Pokémon and can even change its nickname. A quirk of note is that trading randomizes the stats of the Pokémon, with higher Friendship levels increasing the likelihood that your new Pokémon will retain any of the high-powered stats it had under its previous ownership.

What’s still to come

“Trading definitely changed a lot [from its original design], and we have to take a lot of safety considerations for players and also the safety for the game value,” Kirsten Koa, lead software engineer on the social features update, told a small group of gathered press during E3 2018. “We don’t want to devalue their effort by making trading so easy to complete your Pokédex.”

This is the philosophy behind restricting Pokémon trading to in person-only. Don’t expect remote trading any time soon, Koa told us; it’s against the point of the Pokémon Go experience. For Koa and the Niantic team, these updates are all about increasing the social element of the mobile game, which remains a key part of the game’s roadmap.

“We wanted to make sure we got things right”

The Friends feature is also something we should expect Niantic to continue toying with. The cap on Friends will start at 200, but that number may increase in later version updates. The hope is that players meet at events like Pokémon Go Fest, swap Trainer Codes (however unwieldy) and start gifting. It’s a bit tougher to maximize the benefits of a strong Pokémon Go friendship with people who live farther away, but perhaps that’s why events like Community Days and Go Fest just keep gaining ground.

“[I grew up] playing a ton of Pokémon games and watching the anime and collecting and trading the Pokémon, cards with my sisters and friends at school,” Koa said of her experience designing the update. “Friends and trading is a really important aspect of the Pokémon franchise, so leading the implementation has been one of the most exciting but stressful points of my career.

“We wanted to make sure that we got things right.”

Expect friends and trades to arrive by the end of this week — meaning players should be acclimated by July’s Go Fest, where they’ll be sure to make even more friendships and trades.

Source: Polygon